Shadows, Icons, and the Age to Come

Glory to God for All Things | 12/11/2019 | Staff
newusr01newusr01 (Posted by) Level 3
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What will heaven be like?

It is not an unusual question. Sometimes it is asked with all the freshness of a child, other times with the anxiety of the old. It is not a question that admits of easy answers, nor a question for which language is sufficient. The cynic says, “Nobody knows.” That attitude falls short of the fullness of human experience. There are stories. There are also things that point and make suggestions. There is, also, a pattern of reasoning and seeing that stands beside the various witnesses that have come down to us. A pattern of particular note is the statement that “the Old Testament is shadow, and the New Testament is the icon of the age to come.” This idea is stated plainly in both St. Maximus the Confessor (East) and St. Ambrose of Milan (West). It represents part of the primitive consensus of the Church, a foundational way of seeing the world and the nature of our spiritual life.

Notion - Age - Heaven - Reality - Towards

The notion is simple: the age to come (heaven) is the true Reality, towards which everything else can only point. This does not deny that what we now know is “real.” Instead, it says that it lacks something in its reality. It’s real, but not completely so. Putting this into words is nearly impossible. However, it gets put into stories, and the stories have enough commonality to suggest that they share a common experience.

Consider these passages:

Earth - Universe

The earth (the created universe as we know it) is such that it can be “shaken.”

The reality that we see is “transient,” it “passes away.” There is, however, a Reality (the unseen) that is eternal. It is this that cannot be shaken. There is a relationship between the two. When we think of the Incarnation of Christ, we see not the change of...
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